Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Never Ask For Whom The LaBelle Tolls; She Tolls For Thee

In 1984, Patti LaBelle must have been the biggest singer in the universe. At least that was the conclusion I arrived at while looking at the credits for the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack back in elementary school. Because she didn't just have one song on the album, she had two. I mean, not even Shalamar had two songs on that album.

And then, I didn't hear the name Patti LaBelle for a long time.

Ages later, I heard about this group from the '70s called LaBelle. Any relation to that legendary soulstress on the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack? Indeed, a direct relation. "Lady Marmalade" didn't really appeal to me for years (the chorus sounded like gibberish and/or French), but a little while back I downloaded the full Nightbirds album, and holy Superdome, this is some nasty - I mean nasty - New Orleans R&B. But I guess the group never topped it, and to paraphrase the title of her infamous duet with Michael McDonald, Patti headed out "on her own."

Pop success eluded her (although she scored a couple of R&B hits) until that fateful rendezvous with Jerry Bruckheimer and/or destiny, where she landed the opening cut on the soundtrack, "New Attitude," which hit #17. I feel like if the distraught woman from "Neutron Dance" eventually got her act together, and then wrote a song about it, that song would have been "New Attitude":
Running hot
Running cold
I was running into overload
It was extreme

I took it so high
So low
So low, there was no where to go
Like a bad dream

Somehow the wires uncrossed
The tables were turned
Never knew I had
Such a lesson to learn

I'm feeling good from my hat to my shoe
Know where I am going and I know what to do
I've tidied up my point of view
I've got a new attitude

I'm in control, my worries are few
'Cause I got love like I never knew
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
I've got a new attitude
Hey, so I just found out that she sings "like I never knew" and not "Aaaahm ooh-pah-doo!" as I had thought for all these years. Let it also be said that the producer, a certain Harold Faltermeyer, inserts just the right amount of that squiggly "tire screech" synth effect wherever necessary. Now, for the first minute and forty-five seconds of the video, Patti looks like a reasonably fashionable young African-American woman, but at the 1:45 mark, she suddenly transforms into ... a Japanese toilet brush? I didn't realize getting a new attitude meant sticking your fingers in an electrical socket. Maybe those wires hadn't quite uncrossed yet.

Despite only making it to #41 pop, in my mind "Stir It Up" looms just as large in Patti's legend, and it did make #5 R&B, and also accompanied a better scene in the movie (if I recall correctly - it's all a blur). For starters, 1) it's got a synth riff that could've toppled the Ottoman Empire; 2) it's got a pseudo-gospel chorus that the Pointer Sisters would've stolen a thousand brand new Chevrolets for; and 3), it's got a sax solo that could've cracked Glenn Frey's balls. The two best YouTube comments: "In the 80's, jazz-saxophone players were always hanging out on rooftops. It was actually a pretty big problem at the time" and "Came here for Bob Marley actually haha." No, it's not that "Stir It Up" - but Patti LaBelle might be the only singer who could've won a contest with Bob Marley for most untameable hair.


Cleophus said...

I believe that The Meters play on "Lady Marmalade".

Little Earl said...

You know, I feel like I quasi-knew that. I'd never heard of the Nightbirds album until I saw it included on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums list, and I figured it probably didn't deserve to be on there. "Lady Marmalade" and a bunch of filler? But I downloaded it just to make sure, and I had to eat some crow. That said, Nightbirds is almost as much of an Allen Toussaint/Meters album as it is a LaBelle album. Who did LaBelle think they were, Robert Palmer?

Herr Zrbo said...

Was it just me or did the end of this video remind me of the ending to Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" where all the people flood the recording studio (which you wrote about)? And what's with 80s videos where the video takes place in the recording studio? Eddie Murphy's "Party all the time" does the same thing, complete with the shots of the producers in the booth looking pleased at themselves. Speaking of Eddie Murphy, now we've gone full circle. Isn't this where

Herr Zrbo said...

That comment was in regard to "Stir it up" by the way.

Little Earl said...

Yes, thanks for the clarification, but I had a 50% chance of knowing which video you were addressing. And three Zrbo points for The Wall reference.